If this movie sounds familiar but you think I have the name wrong, I'll just say you're partially correct. You may recall the 2023 film directed by Tina Satter, Reality, which provides a minimalistic view of the leaked government documents by Reality Winner.
What the film doesn't delve into is Winner's upbringing and how that played a role into why she leaked the documents. Now as a part of this year's Sundance there's a new Reality Winner film addressing these gaps, called Winner. Directed by Susanna Fogel, this version of Reality's story is infused with much more humor and light hearted tones than its predecessor. This film follows a young Reality (Emilia Jones) across multiple spans of her life and how the actions she took, or the people she met influenced her decision making in printing and sending to The Intercept documents on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Fogel, a co-writer for the wonderful comedy Booksmart, infused a strong comedic element into the film. The juxtaposition of the serious subject matter, and the humor in which it's communicated provided a very fun viewing. Aligning the comedic tone of the film with how Winner has to answer for her "funny name" provides a very personal feel to the story. Her upbringing, relationship with her father Ronald (Zach Galifianakis) and her subsequent venture in the Air Force all have a lighter, more entertaining appeal to it.
I appreciate how Reality used the recordings from the FBI search of Reality's house as a basis for its script. Providing some real, grounded reality (no pun intended) to the situation. But Winner, and Fogel's script, make this story much more digestable for an audience. Not to mention, with just how complex of a character Reality Winner is, it really helped the pace and development of her portrayal throughout.
Jones does a fantastic job juggling all of these different hats that Reality wears. She's a sarcastic, intellectual, cross-fit, animal loving person that honestly has so many more levels to her that I can't fit them all in here. Jones continues to showcase her range coming off of CODA and her previous collaboration with Fogel, Cat Person, by nailing the highs and lows of the story. At first it felt like we might be jumping from dimension to dimension of Reality's character in the beginning. Forcing the flow of the film by having Reality get into a few verbal spats where it was clear the only intention was to introduce one of her interests. Whether its yelling at a neighbor for not caring for their dog, or blurting that she has a plethora of guns, it was a little too pushed for me. Although it also serves the purpose of showing Reality's strong headed nature, providing a little more clarity to the choices.
Winner also does a fantastic job of tackling the current dynamic of the world, if not mostly the U.S. with all of its virtue signaling and institutions. Displaying a Texas A&M page where a group of girls are partying and having fun, labeling the picture as doing something to prevent genocide is an incredibly poignant lambasting of the current climate of social justice "heroes." Always wanting to do something much more tangible, the gap between Reality and these gags is not only hilarious, but feels like a commentary on Millennials and/or Gen Z posting a black box on their instagram to stop racism. Good work everyone, we did it! Later on, when Reality is in the Air Force, her calling in translations that were decided to necessitate drone strikes show all the men in the room whooping and cheering for each blast. The depiction of over the top machismo is another hilarious jab at the military industrial complex, with all its strange pomp and circumstance.
While there may still be plenty more to uncover with Reality Winner, I found Winner to be a very pleasant surprise. Its humor was right up my alley, and I think its serious notes were done well on both fronts of Fogel's writing/directing and Jones' fantastic performance. Not to mention I was shocked at how impacted I was by Galifianakis' performance! He's steady, emotional, and has a quiet power to his voice that I've never seen from him and it was a very very welcome treat. Outside of Galifianakis and Jones, Winner had a stacked core cast where Kathryn Newton and Connie Britton also delivered.
Seeing as this was Susanna Fogel's second directorial foray into Sundance I can't wait to see what she does with something a little bigger. She has all the talent in the world to continue to grow and make something really special, and likely very funny.
Fogel's skillful writing provides an extremely entertaining, easy to consume film that's complex and contains very serious subject matter under this comedic coat. You could go with a light beer to emphasize the humor of Winner but I went with something to mirror Fogel's deft screenplay. UTOG Brewing Company's Lovely Lady Nitro Stout is dark, roasty, and complex but it is easy to drink and mighty tasty as well. A solid chocolate presence makes it easy on the palate, and even the full body is complimented with a creamy smooth finish. All things considered, you would think this is a full blown meal. But I thought UTOG Brewing Company made this as approachable a stout as any other. The 5% ABV also makes it nice and light as opposed to tacking on an imperial stout here to accent the seriousness of Winner's subject matter.